How Web Design Can Make or Break Your Higher Ed Website

Published June 5, 2024 | Categories: Higher Education

From highlighting your college or university's brand to subtly guiding the attention of your prospective student audience, the overall design and look of your website is one of the most important pieces of its construction. But what goes into good web design? And how can you make sure your site's design will wow your audience?  

To give you an inside look at what goes into the stellar site design that Beacon consistently delivers, we spoke with two members of our web design team: Senior UX Visual Designer, Hannah Godfrey and UX Visual Designer II, Kayla Timpson


Q: What is the importance of good web design?

KT: There are many benefits that come with having a well-designed site, such as the opportunity to increase brand visibility and change how that brand is perceived, as well as boosts to your SEO. 

HG: How your audience understands a site's functionality, how they find what they're looking for, that's all part of the design. You can direct a user's journey with appropriately placed buttons and showcasing content in a way that excites readers vs. boring them. 


Q: What should be avoided when designing a site? What differentiates good web design vs. bad web design?

HG: Bad design can break a user experience. If a main navigation menu is poorly designed, a user might grow frustrated with extra clicks or not being able to find what they need quickly (or at all), resulting in them leaving your site and finding the next best thing.

KT: Having no images, videos, or movement will definitely make your site seem a little boring and stiff. Also, we love it when a client brings a strong brand to the table, but not every visual element will translate well when it comes to the world of web design. 

HG: Good design means providing a seamless user experience. Everything that a user needs should be right at their finger tips, because a designer put it there.

Q: How do you determine what a user needs and where it should go?

HG: Data. Tons of data. From heatmaps, audience surveys and focus groups, as well as the input of Beacon's whole team of experts. By incorporating effective imagery with prime placement, strong design has the power to transport prospective students 

into a potential life on campus, ultimately driving both applications and enrollment.

Q: Tell us about your approach to designing sites for clients.

KT: My design process focuses a lot on how users would interact with the design itself and then what questions may come from it. Will this color catch certain users' attention? Will the placement of this image evoke the right narrative for this section? At Beacon, we put our best foot forward, making sure to listen first and act second. It's imperative to listen to an institution's needs, priorities and goals, and incorporate it all into their unique brand.

HG: I like to keep the word "storytelling" in mind. Every page we design has a narrative. In what order would the page flow most naturally? In which layout will different types of content be most easily digestible for students and parents? Does the page need visual breaks or imagery alignment that draws the eye down for more? We're designing that user journey down each page and across every click path.

 Teamwork and communication between design and development is beyond crucial. [It's] what ensures an efficient, functioning site for our clients.  


Q: In our website redesign projects, Beacon typically takes a mobile-forward approach to design. How can a designer ensure a good-looking, functional experience across desktop and mobile platforms? 

HG: When designing a module or a layout, we cycle through many mockups and apply them to a variety of device sizes, noting how it will look and function on all displays, all the way down to the smallest available screen size. We consider spacing, sizing, use-cases and much more to ensure and maintain consistency, minimizing technical complexities. 

KT: I would like to give credit where credit is due and acknowledge our development team, who really go above and beyond to ensure that our designs work functionally across cross-platforms. 

HG: Our developers are excellent at guiding responsive behaviors and they know the breakpoints, in addition to the ins and outs of the functionalities in a way that helps keep our designs delivering from desktop to mobile. 

KT: Teamwork and communication between design and development is beyond crucial. Having these team discussions is what really ensures an efficient, functioning site for our clients.

Q: How does accessibility influence design?

KT: You always need to keep accessibility in mind, even if it means working around brand colors. For example, putting yellow text on a white background is a no-go. Your users are a diverse population with a variety of specific needs. To ensure that we meet those needs, full accessibility testing is foundational fixture in our process, which further informs our design process. 

 It's important to look past the commonalities and find a design approach that is true to who the client is and showcases everything they have to offer. 

Q: How is a client's brand effectively incorporated into a design?

KT: First, acknowledge who exactly you're designing for and who the audience is.

HG: During our strategy phase we immerse ourselves in a school's brand—their guidelines, the way they've used it on their current site, in their marketing materials—anything they can give us: colors, logos, typography; and we incorporate them into their site's design in a unique, yet organic way.

KT: The more direction and references a designer receives before starting work the better! 

HG: We're also looking for those special elements that make their brand and identity unique, and what appeals to their student audience. It's important to look past the commonalities and find a design approach that is true to the institution and showcases everything they have to offer. 

Design a Successful Future for Your Site and Institution with Beacon

If your site's design feels dated, bland, or hard to use, it might be time for a new approach and redesign. Contact Beacon and our design team today to partner with a company that knows what it means to produce effective and engaging design.

Let's get to work!

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